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Nares, Sir George Strong (1831-1915)

Nares was born on 24 April 1831 at Straloch, near Aberdeen to Commander William Henry Nares and his first wife Elizabeth Gould. He was educated at the Royal Naval School, New Cross and entered the Royal Navy in July 1845. He passed his lieutenant’s examination in 1852, serving that year as second mate in H.M.S. Resolute on the British naval Franklin search expedition, 1852 – 1854 (Captains Henry Kellett and Francis Leopold McClintock). This expedition was ordered by the Admiralty to search for the Franklin Arctic Expedition in the region of Melville Island. The voyage took him far into the pack ice of the Canadian Arctic and he took part in several sledging journeys. Promoted to lieutenant on his return to England, Nares concentrated on his naval career and by 1862 had been promoted to the rank of commander. In July 1865, Nares was appointed to command the paddle-steamer Salamander to visit the coast of Queensland, Australia and to maintain links with the new settlement on Albany Pass. He was also instructed to carry out some surveying duties and much time was spent investigating the hydrography of the coastal waters. Having established himself as a surveyor, Nares spent the next few years conducting marine surveys.

In 1872, Nares commanded H.M.S. Challenger during the first two years of the British naval voyage, 1872 – 1876 (Chief Scientist Charles Wyville Thomson). Nares conducted important oceanographic research, discovering that the very cold water found in the depths of the ocean, even in the tropics, was of polar origin. The¬†Challenger also became the first steam vessel to cross the Antarctic Circle south of the Indian Ocean. After the expedition reached Hong Kong for a refit, Nares was recalled to command the British Arctic Expedition, 1875 – 1876, sailing from Portsmouth in two ships, H.M.S.’s Discovery and Alert. The expedition was sent by the Admiralty to attempt to reach the North Pole by way of Smith Sound and to explore the coasts of Greenland and adjacent lands. Although the attempt to reach the North Pole was unsuccessful, the expedition made some geographical discoveries and returned with a large quantity of scientific data.

On his return from the Arctic, Nares was knighted and awarded the founders medal of the Royal Geographical Society. He was appointed Marine Adviser to the Board of Trade in 1879, remaining in that post until 1896. On his retirement, he was appointed Acting Conservator of the River Mersey, a post he held until 1910, and he continued to take an active interest in Arctic and Antarctic exploration, serving on the planning committees of several expeditions. He was appointed rear admiral in 1887 and vice admiral in 1892.

He married Mary Grant in 1858 with whom he had four sons and six daughters. Two of his sons entered the navy.

He died on 15 January 1915 aged 84.

Published Work

Nares, Capt.Sir G.S (1878) Narrative of a voyage to the polar sea during 1875-6 in H.M. Ships Alert and Discovery. London: Sampson Low, Marston, Searle & Rivington. Reprinted: Read Books 2009.

Further Information

Holland, A. (1994) Arctic exploration and development c.500 b.c. to 1915: an encyclopaedia. New York: Garland Publishing Inc.

The Polar Record Vol.18 no.113 May 1976 p127-141.